Page images
PDF
EPUB

Wha will be a traitor knave?
Wha can fill a coward's grave?
Wha sae base as be a slave?

Traitor! coward! turn, and flee!

Wha for Scotland's king and law
Freedom's sword will strongly draw
Freeman stand, or freeman fa',

Sodger! hero! on wi' me!

By oppression's woes and pains!
By your sons in servile chains!
We will drain our dearest veins,

But they shall be-shall be free!

Lay the proud-usurpers low!
Tyrants fall in every foe!
Liberty's in every blow!

Forward! let us do or die!

N.B. I have borrowed the last stanza from the common stall edition of Wallace

• A false usurper sinks in every foe,

And liberty returns with every blow." A couplet worthy of Homer. Yesterday, you had enough of my correspondence. The post goes, and my head aches miserably. One comfort! I suffer so much just now in this world, for last night's joviality, that I shall escape scot-free for it in the world to come. Amen!

MR THOMSON TO BURNS.

12th September 1793. A THOUSAND thanks to you, my dear sir, for your observations on the list of my songs. I am happy to find your ideas so much in unison with my own, respecting the generality of the airs, as well as the verses. About some of them we differ, but there is no disputing about hobby-horses. I shall not fail to profit by the remarks you make, and to reconsider the whole with attention.

Dainty Davie must be sung two stanzas together, and then the chorus; 'tis the proper way. I agree with you, that there may be something of pathos, or tenderness at least, in the air of Fee him, Father, when performed with feeling; but a tender cast may be given almost to any lively air, if you sing it very slowly, expressively, and with serious words. I am, however, clearly and invariably for retaining the cheerful tunes joined to their own humorous verses REVISION OF BANNOCKBURN.'

wherever the verses are passable. But the sweet song for Fee him, Father, which you began about the back of midnight, I will publish as an additional one. Mr James Balfour, the king of good-fellows, and the best singer of the lively Scottish ballads that ever existed, has charmed thousands of companies with Fee him, Father, and with Todlin Hame. also, to the old words, which never should be disunited from either of these airs. Some bacchanals I would wish to discard. Fy! let's a' to the Bridal, for instance, is so coarse and vulgar, that I think it fit only to be sung in a company of drunken colliers; and Saw ye my Father ? appears to me both indelicate and silly.

One word more with regard to your heroic ode. I think, with great deference to the poet, that a prudent general would avoid saying anything to his soldiers which might tend to make death more frightful than it is. Gory' presents a disagreeable image to the mind; and to tell them, 'Welcome to your gory bed,' seems rather a discouraging address, notwithstanding the alternative which follows. I have shewn the song to three friends of excellent taste, and each of them objected to this line, which emboldens me to use the freedom of bringing it again under your notice. I would suggest,

Now prepare for honour's bed,
Or for glorious victory!

BURNS TO MR THOMSON.

[15th] September 1793. "Who shall decide when doctors disagree?' My ode pleases me so much, that I cannot alter it. Your proposed alterations would, in my opinion, make it tame. I am exceedingly obliged to you for putting me on reconsidering it, as I think I have much improved it. Instead of sodger! hero!' I will have it'Caledonian! on wi' me!'

I have scrutinised it over and over; and to the world, some way or other, it shall go as it is. At the same time, it will not in the least hurt me, should you leave it out altogether, and adhere to your first intention of adopting Logan's verses.2

1 See an account of Mr Balfour in the editor's Traditions of Edinburgh.

2. The reader will have observed, that Burns adopted the alterations proposed by his friend and correspondent in former instances, with great readiness ; perhaps, indeed, on all indifferent occasions. In the present instance, however, he rejected them, though repeatedly urged with determined resolution. With every respect for the judgment of Mr Thomson and his friends, we may be satisfied that he did so. He who, in preparing for an engagement, attempts to withdraw his imagination from images of death, will probably have but imperfect success, and is not fitted to stand in the ranks of battle, where the liberties of a kingdom are at issue. Of such men, the conquerors of Bannockburn were not composed. Bruce's troops were inured to war, and familiar with all its sufferings and dangers. On the eve of that memorable day, their spirits were, without doubt, wound up to a pitch of enthusiasm suited to the occasion; a pitch of enthusiasm, at which danger becomes attractive, and the most terrific forms of death are no longer terrible. Such a strain of sentiment this heroic “ welcome” may be supposed well calculated to elevate-to raise their hearts high above fear, and to nerve their arms to the utmost pitch of mortal

I have finished my song to Saw ye my Father? and in English, his you will see.

That there is a syllable too much for the expression of the air, is true; but, allow me to say, that the mere dividing of a dotted crotchet into a crotchet and a quaver, is not a great matter: however, in that I have no pretensions to cope in judgment with you. Of the poetry, I speak with confidence; but the music is a business where I hint my ideas with the utmost diffidence.

The old verses have merit, though unequal, and are popular. My advice is to set the air to the old words, and let mine follow as English verses. Here they are:

[blocks in formation]

TUNE-Saw ye my Father?
Where are the joys I have met in the morning,

That danced to the lark's early song?
Where is the peace that awaited my wandering,

At evening the wild-woods among?
No more a-winding the course of yon river,

And marking sweet flowerets so fair;
No more I trace the light footsteps of pleasure,

But sorrow and sad sighing care.
Is it that summer's forsaken our valleys,

And grim, surly winter is near?
No, no! the bees humming round the gay roses,

Proclaim it the pride of the year.
Fain would I hide what I fear to discover,

Yet long, long too well have I known,
All that has caused this wreck in my bosom

Is Jenny, fair Jenny alone.

exertion. These observations might be illustrated and supported by a reference to the martial poetry of all nations, from the spirit-stirring strains of Tyrtæus, to the war-song of General Wolfe. Mr Thomson's observation, that “Welcome to your gory bed' is a discouraging address," seems not sufficiently considered. Perhaps, indeed, it may be admitted, that the term gory is somewhat objectionable, not on account of its presenting a frightful but a disagreeable image to the mind. But a great poet, uttering his conceptions on an interesting occasion, seeks always to present a picture that is vivid, and is uniformly disposed to sacrifice the delicacies of taste on the altar of the imagination. And it is the privilege of superior genius, by producing a new association, to elevate expressions that were originally low, and thus to triumph over the deficiencies of language. In how many instances might this be exemplified from the works of our immortal Shakspeare!

“Who would fardels bear,
To groan and sweat under a weary life-
When he himself might his quietus make

With a bare bodkin"
It were easy to enlarge, but to suggest such reflections is probably sufficient.'
CURRIE.

DELUDED SWAIN, THE PLEASURE,' &c.

43 Time cannot aid me, my griefs are immortal,

Not1 hope dare a comfort bestow :
Come, then, enamoured and fond of my anguish,

Enjoyment I'll seek in my wo. Adieu, my dear sir! the post goes, so I shall defer some other remarks until more leisure.

BURNS TO MR THOMSON.

September 1793. I HAVE been turning over some volumes of songs, to find verses whose measures would suit the airs for which you have allotted me to find English songs.

[The poet here transcribed a piece of his own, not sufficiently decorous for publication, besides a number of pieces from old song-books, in a few instances touched up and improved by himself.]

For Muirland Willie, you have, in Ramsay's Tea-table, an excellent song, beginning, Ah, why those Tears in Nelly's eyes? As for The Collier's Dochter, take the following old bacchanal :

DELUDED SWAIN, THE PLEASURE,

TUNE-The Collier's Bonnie Lassie.

Deluded swain, the pleasure

The fickle Fair can give thee,
Is but a fairy treasure-

Thy hopes will soon deceive thee.
The billows on the ocean,

The breezes idly roaming,
The clouds' uncertain motion

They are but types of woman.
Oh! art thon not ashamed

To dote upon a feature?
If man thou wouldst be named,

Despise the silly creature.
Go, find an honest fellow;

Good claret set before thee:
Hold on till thou art mellow,

And then to bed in glory.

The faulty line in Logan Water I mend thus :

How can your flinty hearts enjoy

The widow's tears, the orphan's cry? The song otherwise will pass. As to M Gregoria Rua- Ruth, you

So in manuscript-hitherto always printed Nor.

will see a song of mine to it, with a set of the air superior to yours, in the Museum, vol. ii. p. 181. The song begins,

* Raving winds around her blowing.' Your Irish airs are pretty, but they are downright Irish. If they were like the Banks of Banna, for instance, though really Irish, yet in the Scottish taste, you might adopt them. Since you are so fond of Irish music, what say you to twenty-five of them in an additional number? We could easily find this quantity of charming airs : I will take care that you shall not want songs; and I assure you, that you would find it the most saleable of the whole. If you do not approve of Roy's Wife, for the music's sake, we shall not insert it. Deil tak the Wars is a charming song; so is Saw ye my Peggy? There's nae Luck about the House well deserves a place. I cannot say that O’er the Hills and far awa strikes me as equal to your selection. This is no my ain House is a great favourite air of mine ; and if you will send me your set of it, I will task my Muse to her highest effort. What is your opinion of I hae laid a Herrin' in saut? I like it much. Your Jacobite airs are pretty, and there are many others of the same kind pretty; but you have not room for them. You cannot, I think, insert Fy! let's a' to the Bridal to any other words than its own.

What pleases me, as simple and naïve, disgusts you as ludicrous and low. For this reason, Fy! gie me my Coggie, Sirs; Fy! let's a to the Bridal, with several others of that cast, are to me highly pleasing; while, Saw ye my Father, or saw ye my Mother ? delights me with its descriptive simple pathos. Thus my song, Ken ye what Meg o' the Mill has gotten ? pleases myself so much, that I cannot try my hand at another song to the air; so I shall not attempt it. I know you will laugh at all this ; but “ilka man wears his belt his ain gait!

A public library had been established by subscription among the citizens of Dumfries in September 1792, and Burns, ever eager about books, had been from the first one of its supporters. Before it was a week old, he had presented to it a copy of his poems. He does not seem to have been regularly admitted member till 5th March 1793, when the committee, by a great majority, resolved to offer to Mr Robert Burns a share in the library, free of any admission-money [10s. 6d.) and the quarterly contributions [2s. 6d.] to this date, out of respect and esteem for his abilities as a literary man ; and they directed the secretary to make this known to Mr Burns as soon as possible, that the application which they understood he was about to make in the ordinary way might be anticipated.' This is a pleasing testimony to Burns as a poet, but still more so to Burns as a citizen and member of society. His name appears in September as a member of committee-an honour assigned by vote of the members.

On the 30th of this month, the liberal poet bestowed four books

« ՆախորդըՇարունակել »